Monday, September 13, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened To Me On -----

By now anyone who has read my posts, or seen my comments on other blogs, know that I have a hearing loss and had a cochlear implant several years ago. It has been suggested to me that I write about being deaf and how it impacts my life.

My hearing loss was sudden and frightening and occurred in middle age. Prior to that time I had perfect hearing and perfect pitch (for those who might not know, perfect pitch means that I knew the pitch of a note and never failed to get it right. For example, I would hum G, go to the piano and hit G and I was always 'right on.') Now music is no longer pleasurable. It's getting better, however.

Meniere's disease in both ears appeared suddenly with almost total deafness. Through the following months some of my hearing returned, but it was never as good as before. I was able to function for many years without any help other than a supportive family that told me what was said when I had that 'deer in the headlights' look on my face. In time I got a hearing aid and was thrilled to be able to hear the refrigerator run. The next help was a Princess phone with an amplified hand set. That was followed in a few years by a desk phone with stronger amplification in the hand set. A few years later I resorted to a speaker phone as my hearing further deteriorated. Now I have a closed captioning phone and get captions when I am called as well as when I call out. If you telephone me, I might be slow to answer because I need to read the captions. If anyone needs information about this wonderful phone. go to:

My Phone.

By the time I was in my 50's I was having a lot of trouble understanding people and I began retreating from going places where I would be embarrassed. No more parties or meetings for me. I didn't deal with the situation forcefully enough and would ask people to repeat; and when I still couldn't understand I would ask for a third repeat. Of course, if I didn't understand the first time, I wasn't going to be able to do so the third time if they said the same thing the same way. By that time, this became embarrassing for both of us and I would wanly smile and pretend I heard.

I struggled through life this way and stayed close to someone who would make sure I understood what was being said correctly. My husband became my second pair of ears during all those years. After he died I had to get 2 digital hearing aids to continue to function in a hearing world. My hearing loss was becoming severe. Eventually, it became profound and that was when I got a cochlear implant.

And now for the funny thing that happened to me on the way to DEAFNESS. I made many mistakes that caused me great distress during those years, but some of them were just plain funny.

I was working as a secretary for a Real Estate company and, as such, I had to call the ads in to the newspaper representative. The newspaper gave a party for the newsmen and their counterparts in the corporate world. I had to represent the agency at this party. It was a cocktail party with hor's doeuvres being served at round tables that seated 8 people. The conversation that flowed between the people at my table was just noise to me. It was impossible for me to understand a thing that was being said. Nearing tears, I retreated to the only place I could have privacy; the loo. There was no one in there and, as I walked in, my frustration led to me talk out loud. To my dead husband I said, "Oh Honey, it's no good without you." Then I noticed a pair of feet under one of the stalls. With a very red face I quickly retreated to the other stall and stayed there until I heard her leave. I do hope she didn't notice my tell-tale shoes later.

My son and daughter were visiting me after their father's death. I had a breakfast bar on one side of my kitchen counter and the kids were seated waiting for me to serve them. I made BLT's and handed one to my son. I turned my back to get my daughter's and heard my son whisper to his sister., "Is this all the bacon we get?" I whirled around and asked, "Oh, you want more?" He was so startled that I will never forget the look on his face. Incredulous, comes to mind.
Hearing loss can sometimes do funny things.

My worst faux paux occurred when I was an officer in the Women's group at the church I used to belong to. Once a year we had Women's Day and, as VP, it was my duty to do the part of the service that the minister usually did
(sans Sermon, of course). We had two services at that time; a nine o'clock and an 11 o'clock. I had to take the early service. I went into the office prior to going into the sanctuary to get the announcements that I had to give. While I was there the President came in and was teasing me about taking the later service as well since I would be experienced by then. We were in the back of the room and as we talked the office filled up with lots of people. I left and as I went out the front door the president yelled something at me. I assumed (always a big mistake) that she was teasing me again. I threw up my hands and said, "Oh no" and promptly left. The next day the president came to see me and asked me if I heard what she had said. I confessed that I hadn't, but thought she was teasing me again. She informed me that what she had actually said was, "Will you take Rusty (her small son) home with you after you are through?" She told me that everyone turned to her and asked her what was the matter with Rusty? Oh No!!!!

Finally, there was the terrible time that should certainly have taught me to never pretend to hear when I did not. You may have read my previous post for a birthday wish for my granddaughter, Rachel. She was about 3 years old and I was talking to her on the phone. She was telling me a long story, of which I understood nothing. I kept saying, "That's nice Honey. Oh I am so happy, Honey. Wow,that's great Honey." When my daughter took the phone back she asked me if I knew what Rachel was telling me. I told her I didn't have a clue. Rachel had been telling me she had been sick. Well, as you can tell, assume-ing made and ass our of you and and ass out of me again.

I'm sure there have been many times that my misunderstandings have been funny or disastrous, but my friends and family have been too kind to tell me. I doubt that it will stop, because I still have trouble hearing in a noisy place, but I do fairly well when it's quiet and, believe me, that's an improvement. I have also stopped pretending to hear when I don't.

For those of you who may live with a hearing impaired person, or have contact with one, I will pass on some tips to help you make them hear. Do not yell; that makes it worse. Speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Face them so the sound of your voice is directed toward them. And, most important, if they did not understand what you said, please try to phrase it in a different way. Change a few words in your sentence, if possible. 'Store' might become a 'market'. You get the idea.

And have patience with the hearing impaired and make sure they hear you. They really do want to.


Chancy said...

Excellent post Darlene and it really hits home as I have hearing loss and am trying to function without a hearing aid so far.
The things I think I hear are sometimes funny too. :)

Rain said...

My husband has limited hearing at certain pitches. His came from years of working with noise and they told him they couldn't help with any hearing aids although I want him to check again as sometimes they improve these things. Hearing loss is certain a big limitation but not an insurmountable one as that actress Marlee Matlin has proven. What always amazes me is Helen Keller to be blind and deaf and yet learn to communicate with the world on the level she did. That's a proof I guess that we operate through more than the senses we normally think of as so critical.

My husband's father had the balance problem from his ears. We don't realize how many things it takes for us to work.

Did you ever learn to read lips? I know that helps some, of course, only when looking directly at the person.

Xtreme English said...

deafness is low comedy, that's for sure. all of those kinds of things have happened to me, too. worst is misunderstanding what people tell you with a big smile on their face (a midwestern idiosyncracy if there ever was one). like the woman at the school board meeting (i was treasurer for several years) saying "......haha". and i replied "Oh, how nice!haha." turns out she was telling me her mother-in-law had died that week. ugh. even with my CI, i'm still deaf, but i'm learning more about manipulating the technology, and that's been very helpful. hang in there, darlene. i think in the next life we'll get to be hearing for the whole trip.

Joy Des Jardins said...

You have been through a lot with your hearing loss Darlene; but of course your family and friends understand and love you....who wouldn''re very loveable.

My mother-in-law as had some hearing loss, and it's gotten quite a bit worse in the last few years. I try to do exactly what you've mentioned in your 'helpful hints.' Nana, as we all call her, will be 94 years young in January; and like you....she is one wonderful woman who is loved and admired by everyone. Thanks for telling us your story sweetie... ~Joy

Darlene said...

*Chancy - Thank you. I hope your hearing stays stabilized and doesn't get worse.

*Rain - Reading lips takes a long time to learn and is difficult at best. So many lip movements are the same for different words. You have to watch body language to really master it. No, I didn't take a course on lip reading, but I do look at people's mouths as they speak because it does help. Every little clue is important.

Xtreme English - I know you have gone through similar experiences, but the one about the woman telling you her mother-in-law had died while she was smiling beats anything that happened to me. I will hang in there and we will laugh together about our funny misunderstandings.

*Joy Des Jardins - You are the loveable one and I am so glad you are my friend.

One Woman's Journey said...

Darlene, thank you for this post. A lot of information I was not aware of.
I have total loss in my right ear.
Most of the time it does not bother me - unless someone is sitting on my right side (like my little granddaughter - when I am driving - she will say "can you hear me grandma".
I do not crowds or a function with a lot of people. Seems there is echoing and I cannot hear good.
In church everyone will be laughing and I do not know what they are laughing at.
So hopefully my condition stays the same.

Hattie said...

I have age related hearing loss that I can compensate for with a generic Songbird hearing aid. These cost only $80.00 and can be ordered over the Internet. I'm not trying to push these aids, but for people with simple hearing loss there is no reason to spend thousands of dollars when an aid like this can put you back in the world of conversation. My friends really notice the difference. Before, they were telling me, "You don't listen." I just wear one aid, in my right ear.
Being digital, the Songbird is not so great for music, but it will serve.
Darlene: I have experienced the phenomenon of music sounding like noise, especially violins and flutes.

Rummuser said...

Funny yet poignant too! My 93 year old father lives with me and has problems with his hearing. We never know when he can hear and when he cannot and even following your advise on how to address him, sometimes, he will ask for louder talk and sometimes he will object! It is also quite hilarious when he talks to visitors when he is unable to understand what the visitor says and answers with totally irrelevant things. He is also quite stubborn and refuses to wear his hearing aids unless he is forced to. I have simply got used to him!

la peregrina said...

As Chancy said, excellent post, Darlene. I had Meniere's disease when I was younger and have some hearing loss in my left ear. I've always thought it was because some crazy person on the street walked up to me one day and screamed as loud as he could into it but I see now the loss could have been an after effect of Meniere's. As you well understand, I wouldn't wish Meniere's disease on a dog.

Darlene said...

*Rummuser - I guess if you can't fight them, you have to join them. It must be difficult living with a stubborn father.

*la peregrina - Meniers isn't fun and games, that's for sure. I no longer have the dizzy spells that I am sure you had, thank goodness.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Good suggestions!

Rain, my husband who was more than a little deaf before, now has even more pronounced hearing loss after a bout of radiation this summer to his face/neck/head area. We were told this might happen.

His original hearing loss was also due to working in a loud machinery area when he was younger. Female voices are harder for him to hear.

On another note, my youngest daughter has taught her baby son, now 16 months old, how to sign. He isn't deaf, but they have communicated well since he was able to sit alone. I think it has made him less prone to frustation fits.

kenju said...

I have total empathy with you because, as you know, I'm about half deaf and the rest of the time I don't listen.

My dad was deaf and he said some very funny things. He would answer what he thought you said and often his answer had nothing to do with the subject.

Nancy said...


We were on a trip to Canada and visited Alexander Graham Bell's lab and home on Cape Breton Island.

Both his wife and Mother were deaf and that was the main reason he invented the telephone. He was working on a "Hearing machine" and came up with the telephone.

As they say:"Necessity is the Mother of Invention".

Darlene said...

*One Woman's Journey - It sounds like you might benefit from a hearing aid. If I were you I would get a free hearing test and see what they say.

*Hattie - I had never heard of the Songbird. It sounds like the perfect solution for a mild hearing loss.

Is the baby deaf? I have a friend whose granddaughter was born deaf and the whole family signed until she was old enough to get an implant. It's amazing how quickly a baby picks it up.

*Cowtown Pattie - The average hearing loss is in the upper register; especially when the damage was caused by loud noises. That's why the female voice is harder to hear.

*Kenju - Sometimes its convenient to not hear. ;-) I am sure I have done the same thing your dad did many times.

*Nancy - That's a great story. It's nice to know that deafness produced such a useful tool. What would we do without the telephone?

Barry said...

Thanks, Darlene. A wonderful post. I appreciate the information. When I spoke with you on the phone earlier this year I was surprised to find you were on the closed captioning phone. It took a few seconds for me to catch on, and you were quite patient with me. ;) Soon, I was sitting by the pool chatting as though there was no difference at all.

I am more careful these days about loud music, loud power equipment and the like, but I fear some damage has been done. Your descriptions will make me pay closer attention to any potential problems with my hearing. Thank you.

Nancy said...


You might like the story of the old lady who had a severe hearing problem but was successfully fitted with a hearing aid and could hear as well as anyone now.

Someone mentioned to her that he thought her family should be very happy that she could hear now.She told him that she hadn't told anybody in her family yet. She just sits in the corner and listens to everything they say.

Then, she chuckled and said, "I've changed my will four times!"

Darlene said...

*Barry - I'm glad I could be of a little help. Get ear plugs when you have to use power equipment and you might avoid a hearing loss.

*Nancy - I see I missed a golden opportunity when I let my family know I could hear again. ;-)

joared said...

Oh, Darlene! This is just marvelous. Most of my professional life as a Speech-Language Pathologist I have worked directly with individuals with hearing loss who don't use hearing aids, those trying to adapt to using hearing aids, and their families. In recent years individuals hearing loss has been an incidental challenge many of the people I serve are coping with, secondary to many other communication, cognitive, and swallowing problems.

Your personal description of your experience so mirrors that of so many with hearing loss with whom I've interacted. Maintaining humor and finding humor in the misunderstandings that may occur is a quality I consider to be sanity-preserving for all. I encourage everyone to develop this trait for their own sakes.

I loved your stories as examples showcasing the humor in the serious. Also, you exhibit another important trait of learning from your experiences to never assume, pretend and not be afraid to ask for reapeat/re-wordings.

Your summary of helps for effectively communicating with those who have hearing loss is so important, I wish everyone would take serious note.

I loved Nancy's story!

Darlene said...

*Joared - Thank you so much for your comment. Because you are a professional I value it highly.

One Woman's Journey said...

Darlene - already checked that out.
Was told it would not help as their is total loss in the right ear. I can live with it and many times have to ask someone to repeat what they are saying - does not bother me :)

Darlene said...

*One Woman's Journey - I'm glad you checked it out. Sorry it won't help, but you have a good attitude about it.

Mildred Garfield said...

Reading your post reminded me of my father who had a hearing problem. For years I had to speak in a loud voice so that we could communicate.

When he was being admitted to a nursing home the lady in charge realized he was hard of hearing and asked him, "which ear to you hear better from." He told her,his left ear, so she stayed to his left!

I had never thought of asked that question! I won't have had to yell all those years.

naomi dagen bloom said...

Oh, there are so many of us here with you Darlene. Thanks for giving us the forum. When I was five, I had a mastoid operation before penicillin so lost a fair amount of hearing on one side. Became a good lip-reader and always-engaged listener. Now have no hearing in that ear.

In social situations, I always let person on my left know that I need a nudge when spoken to. Past few years I've developed a problem with my speaking voice being too low. May be related to hearing loss and having a distorted notion of how loud I speak. Another of life's mysteries.

Darlene said...

*Millie - Your father should have told you. Live and learn.

*Naomi Dagen Bloom - I, too, sometimes speak too softly. Other hearing impaired people talk loudly because they think other people have a problem hearing, too. ;)

I guess a hearing loss is more common that we realize.

Anonymous said...

Darlene--You and your readers have supplied many of us with an education, in short order. Thanks!
Cop Car
P.S. Joared made sure that I came to read your posting.

Darlene said...

*Cop Car - Joared is very knowledgeable in anything to do with speech pathology and that includes hearing. I'm glad she sent you over.

joared said...

Darlene and Naomi: Speaking in a voice that is too soft is often a problem some individuals with hearing loss experience. They can no longer monitor accurately the loudness of their voice, so rather than speak too loudly, they end up not speaking loudly enough.

There are several ways to address that issue. One of the most inexpensive ones is to have a trusted individual (usually family member or close friend) provide constant, instant feedback in 1:1 conversations when you produce just the right loudness level. Repeated experiences doing this may eventually help the individual with the hearing loss acquire the desired loudness level.

Millie: You made a really good point about inquiring of the hearing impaired person as to which is the best ear, then speaking into that ear which is one of several recommendations to use with anyone who experiences hearing loss, especially if there's a difference in the hearing between both ears.

Darlene: Thanks for your kind comments. There's much I don't know. Am constantly learning and I learn the most from those I'm attempting to help. Really appreciate what you and those who comment here share about their experiences.

Darlene said...

*Joared - We can always learn from each other, but you are the expert in this field. Thanks for your contribution.

20th Century Woman said...

That was really interesting and a good reminder to those of us who still have good hearing to be mindful of the needs of our friends and loved ones who don't. A good friend who is almost completely deaf came by to visit with me and my daughter last evening, and I remembered to speak clearly, and face her full on as we talked. She lip reads very well. We had a lot of fun together drinking red wine and eating sushi.

Darlene said...

*20th Century Woman - I am sure your friend really appreciated your thoughtfulness.

Kay Dennison said...

Awesome post!!!! And yeah, any handicap requires patience by loved ones. Been there; done that.

Darlene said...

*Kay Dennison - Yes, Kay, I know you have been there and did that with great courage.

yessuf1 said...

Lydia said...

It was startling to read that your hearing loss happened when you were so young. What a bunch of funny episodes 'midst a remarkable story as a whole.
I appreciate the tips you gave. My husband's hearing isn't great and may grow worse over time...

Darlene said...

*Lydia - Although my loss started when I was young, the loss has been progressive so I was able to function for many years.

Vagabonde said...

I enjoyed this post and learnt a lot. My husband is losing his hearing. He had a test and it showed that he cannot hear many sounds – I think including many I make. I get frustrated and then feel bad because I know it’s not his fault. He used to hunt a lot, with black powder rifles, without any ear protection. One of the problems now is that he turns the volume on the TV so high that it hurts my ear. Luckily I only watch Jon Stewart and that’s about it. He does not want a hearing aid as they are so expensive but I read the comments by Hattie saying something about a hearing aid for the birds, so I’ll look into that. I will try very hard to be patient and e-nun-ci-ate, but sadly he does not understand many words now because of the way they sound with my French accent.

Darlene said...

*Vagabonde - I am sorry that your husband is having hearing problems. That's the trouble with a hearing loss; you hear the voice just fine but can't understand the words. Yes, an accent does make it much harder.

Have you tried getting a good headset with ear buds for your husband to use when watching TV? That way he could adjust the sound instead of blasting you out of your chair.